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Day 99: Pacquiao vs. Punch Drunk

November 14, 2010

By the end of the sixth round, Antonio Margarito’s right cheek resembled a well-done steak.

Last night’s 12-round super welterweight title fight at Cowboys Stadium (lost a buck for the location…dammit…) was a clinical dissection by Manny Pacquiao.  A video instructional manual: “How to Humble a Larger Opponent.”  Pacquaio broke through Margarito’s defenses with a leading right jab then initiated combinations with the sharp left under Margarito’s right eye.  The swelling started by the third round and by the fourth, the eye was about 80% swollen shut.  With that, Pacquaio began work on the left cheek, sufficiently closing vision on Margarito’s clear side.  Next, work began over Margarito’s right eye, opening a cut significant enough to begin blood flow into the eye itself and further obstruct Margarito’s vision.  By the 12th closing bell, Margarito had taken nearly 400 punches to the head…including over 250 to the cheeks and forehead.

This was the systematic deconstruction of a human being.  In this controlled, trained setting…it was captivating.

One of my main qualms with football recently has been the reluctance to take significant action to stem the increase in youth concussions attributed to the sport.  So how can I condone the similarly violent head blows which take place in the sport of boxing?  Is it possible that boxing actually does more to prevent early and frequent concussions than football does?

At its earliest stages until one enters the pro ranks, boxers are required to wear thickly-padded head gear along with the ubiquitous padded gloves.  Sparring sessions are closely monitored by trainers and are strictly regimented.  The fights themselves are fairly infrequent, perhaps three or four per year for the average professional boxer.  The fighters are trained predominantly, and reminded during pre-fight instructions, to protect themselves at all times.  Referees are trained to identify a fighter’s inability to defend himself and interject immediately.

While boxing reports the highest incidence of concussions among professional males of any contact sport, the major difference is length of time dictated between suffering a concussion and the return to activity.  In boxing, you’ve got as much time as you need to recover from a concussion.  American football is littered with stories of young players’ careers ending or worse because a coach thought he was “dinged up” or “seeing stars” and was sent back onto the field after a few plays.

This isn’t to say that boxing is a safer sport than football, but boxing tends to have a stronger awareness of its inherent health risks and has moved to stem those injuries before they get any worse.  I guess that’s how I justify my enjoyment of boxing after all these years.  I attended Golden Gloves fights in Brooklyn on cold Friday nights as a kid.  We “acquired” many of the major fights from Tyson through Lennox Lewis including the the sport’s most frequent visitor to the Rossiter living room, Julio Cesar Chavez.

Even as the rise of mixed martial arts began with guys like Tank Abbott, Dan Severn, Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie I always held a greater appreciation for the boxer, even to this day.  When two men face off in an octagon or cage setting, the result is based mainly on instinct an ability to use any skill you may bring to the table.  Boxing is the great equalizer: each contestant has three weapons to utilize.  Fists for attacking/defending, body for positioning, and the mind for strategy.  More than anoth other contact sport, you’ve got to be smart in boxing to excel because of the nature of the game.  Are you going to counter an opponent with speed?  Stamina?  Power?  These are dynamic decisions that are made over the course of potenially sixty minutes of energy-draining movement.  Those short on logic are not rewarded with lengthy or successful careers.

That’s why a guy like Pacquiao is so fascinating.  He’s got the disadvantage of size and he overcomes it with strategy.  He relentlessly deconstructs opponents of all compositions from the start and is sure to get out before he’s in trouble.  He flaunts creativity and civility with his endeavors into music and politics.  He understands his persona and embraces it; he’s a self-promoter who balances dignity and celebrity with a dash of self-awareness.

I feel that the biggest demerit against boxing these days isn’t the perception of damaging injury, the spectre of slimy promoters or the cost of pay-per-view for the biggest fights.  There just isn’t enough personality in the game.  Not enough guys who break away from stereotypes and create their own legacy.  Not enough difference in background stories or compelling personas.  It doesn’t have to be as extreme as Sgt. Slaughter threatening to burn the American flag or anything…just some self-awareness of who they are.  Have the skills to back it up and tell us what you’re going to do with it.

I personally don’t think Mayweather/Pacquiao will ever happen because I don’t think Mayweather has much to gain from it anymore.  If it does happen, it needs to take place at a venue befitting of what could potentially be the sport’s last great fight: Yankee Stadium.  Make it the Main Event of Main Events.  Bring the spectator back to the lore of the Sweet Science: the brutal simplicity of the mind, the body and the fist.



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